Community ranches can curb poaching


Confiscating and burning ivory and heightened security patrols in game parks have not been very successful in curbing the poaching of elephants in Kenya and Africa.

They failed to protect around 100,000 elephants that were killed for their ivory between 2010 and 2012 in Africa.

A team of researchers now believe this massacre could have been avoided if conservation bodies and authorities had invested more in helping local communities adopt particular types of land ownership and land use.

In a study recently published in PLoS ONE scientific journal, the researchers say: “Encouraging and promoting land owners to adopt land use types that recognise the importance of protecting wildlife will substantially reduce poaching levels,” says the study, recommending the establishment of community wildlife conservancies.

The study was conducted by the University of Twente in the Netherlands in collaboration with Save the Elephants, Kenya Wildlife Service, Colorado State University and the Northern Rangelands Trust.

The researchers, led by Festus Ihwagi of University of Twente and a Senior GIS Analyst at Save the Elephants — Kenya, investigated the relationships between the level of illegal killing, elephant distribution, land ownership and land uses over a period of 11 years in the Laikipia-Samburu ecosystem, northern Kenya.

They found out that land ownership and use are particularly critical in the conservation of elephants considering that 98.5 per cent of the elephants in the Laikipia-Samburu ecosystem are found on land outside the government protected areas.

The unprotected land under private ranching and community conservation, besides having the highest densities of elephants, had also the lowest overall levels of poaching.


Community pastoral areas had the highest overall levels of poaching during the entire study period.

While the non-protected elephant habitats are important to the conservation of elephants, they are often the areas mostly under threat.

Wildlife access to prime grazing areas of unprotected community pastoral land is, at times, affected by conflicts amongst pastoral tribes seeking control of such areas.

“A key consequence of establishing conservancies has been the peaceful resolution of disputes and promotion of harmonious co-existence, which has benefited both wildlife and people,” the authors state.

According to the study, the proportion of poached elephants in forest reserves rose steadily from 2010 to an all-time high of 76 percent in 2012; this was higher than in any other land use type.

The researchers chose the Laikipia-Samburu ecosystem since it is one of the few designated Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme areas of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

It is also home to Kenya’s second largest elephant population, estimated at approximately 6,500 elephants.

Despite the overall decline in elephant populations at the national level, the Laikipia- Samburu ecosystem has had stable or increasing numbers.